Agang SA leader Mamphela Ramphele (left) joins DA leader Helen Zille for a press conference in Cape Town to announce their political agreement. Picture: Henk Kruger

Cape Town - Agang SA leader Mamphela Ramphele said on Tuesday she would be the DA's presidential candidate in the general elections.

Ramphele said: “This is a historic moment. We are going to take away the excuse of race and challenge the ANC to be judged on its performance. “We are taking away that race card and putting it in the dustbin.”

She added that she was “honoured” to accept the DA's invitation to front its campaign, saying: “I believe that this decision is in the best interests of South Africa as we head into turbulent waters.”

Ramphele, who is best known as an academic and former Black Consciousness activist, spoke after Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille announced the move, ending speculation over a merger.

“I can announce today that Dr Mamphela Ramphele has accepted the DA's invitation to stand as our presidential candidate in the 2014 general election.”

Zille said she had “badgered” Ramphele for years to front the DA's drive to expand its power base because the outspoken academic had the credibility that she herself lacked to persuade voters that it was a party for all races.

“There is no way a party with Mamphela Ramphele as presidential candidate will bring back apartheid,” Zille said, adding that Ramphele's statement would have rung hollow had it come from her.

“This is a game-changing moment for South Africa,” she said, before terming it the fruition of a seven-year project to bring about a realignment in a political landscape long divided by race.

The merger comes about a year after Ramphele launched Agang SA after initially rejecting an offer of replacing Zille as party leader, choosing instead to go it alone despite surveys predicting very limited support for the venture.

On Tuesday, the two women warmly embraced at their press briefing and Ramphele gave assurances that she would take up a DA seat in Parliament as an ordinary member after the elections.

“I'm not in this game because I need to be a leader. I am in this game to serve and I will be led by my colleagues on how they want me to serve,” she said.

Ramphele predicted that the elections, expected to be held in late April or May, would prove a watershed moment in South African politics as former president Nelson Mandela's death had freed many from a moral obligation they had felt to vote for the ANC.

Young people could now vote for another party because they would no longer feel they were “betraying” him, and the booing of President Jacob Zuma at Mandela's memorial service last month had shown it could no longer ride on his legacy.

“The people who were booing at the FNB Stadium were saying the emperor has no clothes.”

Ramphele also cited Mandela when she was asked whether her colleagues and supporters would not accuse her of selling out by appearing on the DA ballot.

She said that sentiment prevailed in the ANC when Mandela negotiated with the National Party but did not stop him from inviting it into a government of national unity.

Zille conceded that the merger had not been approved by the grassroots of the DA but said she and Ramphele would embark on a roadshow to discuss it with their party structures in the provinces.

“We have an agreement politically, we just need the technical details worked out,” Zille said.

She said drafting Ramphele in as presidential candidate had been approved by a two-thirds majority vote by the DA's federal executive as was the customary requirement for exceptional decisions.

Barring a technical obstacle her face would appear on the 2014 voting ballot.

She brushed aside suggestions that Ramphele might replace Lindiwe Mazibuko - with whom Zille clashed last year over employment equity legislation - as parliamentary leader, giving assurances that she had full confidence in the latter.

Ramphele was caustic in her criticism of the ANC, calling it the party of broken promises and stolen money.

The party was, she said, “fracturing along all the broad-church lines” and many in its ranks were furtively looking for another home.

“Good people in the ANC have reached out to us but are scared. Good business leaders have reached out to us but are nervous.”

Political analyst Steven Friedman termed the merger “an error of judgment on the DA's part” as Ramphele lacked a constituency and could not claim a history within the ANC - an advantage Cope's leaders had - because she had never been a member.

“Agang was a non-starter,” Friedman said, adding that Ramphele's appeal lay with people who were already supporting the DA and that she was unlikely to lure away ANC voters. - Sapa